For all you would-be and wannabe Canadians out there, I have some bad news. Sex in a canoe is not what you think it is.

You might be familiar with the quote, “A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe.” Author and historian Pierre Berton, to whom the quip is most often attributed, claimed he said no such thing. No matter. Whoever said this was not talking about sex, and if you missed this distinction, read on.

The very incomplete guide to having sex in a canoe

For penetrating insights into the act itself, the Internet abounds with how-to instructions, directions, DIY tips and tricks, many of them with accompanying intriguing diagrams and illustrations. Some are tasteful, like Cosmo’s canoodling visual; many are decidedly not.

For those of you bone-headedly literal types who choose to continue to obsess on the physicality of the notion of striving for experientially-affirmed Canadian citizenship, here’s the bad news. True hosers know love in a canoe is just the beginning—an entry point as it were—into a veritable Karnoe Sutra of coital challenges serious students of this subject have discovered on offer in the Great North.

a do not disturb sign is hung from a paddle over a canoe suggesting someone is planning to have sex in the canoe
Don’t come knocking when the canoe is rocking. | Feature photo: Michael Hewis and Jeff Priest

If you think you’ve mastered the canoe thing, congratulations, you’re but a kindergarten dropout in such matters. If you’re ever hoping to matriculate and move on to grad school, you’ll need to master conjugal liaisons in skin-on-frame qayaqs, surfskis, SUPs, the good-old rump-resistant rock of the Canadian shield at -40º or on a portaledge halfway up Mount Thor’s main face in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, ideally on the winter solstice.

There’s no room for complacency or pride in accomplishment if all you’ve ever done is shimmy a double-ender on a balmy July night at the lake.

Canoes are about relationships

The indoctrinated know it’s not about sex; the quotation references lovemaking in a canoe. This is a less physical and potentially far more satisfying proposition, much as this might come as a shock to some of the canoe jocks out there. Because if canoes are about anything, they are about relationships. The birch tree with the canoe, the vessel with the landscape, the design with First Peoples, the wood with the water, the water with the sky, the paddle with the paddler, the paddlers with each other, and the pastime with the traditions of old. To canoe is to love the relationships it kindles, reveals and nourishes.

However, one relationship I’d like to highlight is how this topic has had an unexpected defining influence on my legacy as a writer and storyteller.

An accredited expert on canoe canoodling

I’ve raised two loving and competent daughters, written a number of books that sold tens of copies, had several real jobs in respectable institutions, spent more years than I care to admit in post-secondary institutions gathering letters after my name that would make a killer Scrabble hand, and done a little canoodling here and there, just for fun—and what is my reward? With search terms “sex in a canoe” duly entered and executed in preparation to write this column, the very first of 16,600,000 webpages, conjured in 0.41 seconds, is a reference to me.

It’s a line from an article by Malia Wollan in The New York Times. Here’s the bullet citation: “July 26, 2018 — To maintain balance, relax your body. ‘Let your hips roll with the canoe,’ Raffan says. Be mindful of the fact sound carries particularly….”

What else is there to know? There’s my name written down in glory. The expert source, according to Google. The sex-in-a-canoe guy. Son of a perch! Maybe I should have been out paddling the day the reporter called.

James Raffan is an author, explorer, canoodler and Director of External Relations at the Canadian Canoe Museum.

Cover of Paddling Magazine Issue 67This article was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Don’t come knocking when the canoe is rocking. | Feature photo: Michael Hewis and Jeff Priest



  1. The number of hits surely must have
    been closer to 69,696,969, n’est pas?
    And all while doing the deed safely…
    WEARING one’s PFDs rather than
    using them as butt and back


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